Yesterday morning, Craig Scott delivered a presentation of Rachel’s Challenge to Toll Gate High School, carrying on his sister’s legacy 14 years after her death.
Rachel Joy Scott was the first student killed during the shootings at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. In her honor, her family began Rachel’s Challenge, a program dedicated to instilling kindness, compassion and positive thinking in students and adults.
The program is based on Rachel’s writings, including an essay entitled “My Ethics, My Codes of Life,” which was written one month before her death.
In the essay, she wrote, “compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer.” She also explains her belief that one act of kindness could create a chain reaction of the same.
Yesterday was Toll Gate’s fifth time sponsoring a Rachel’s Challenge presentation, however, it was the first time the presentation was delivered by Craig, who is also a survivor of the shooting.
“It was the worst day, but I am actually thankful for all I have gone through,” said Craig. “It’s made me who I am today.”
While Craig has a career in the film industry in Los Angeles, he has spent most of his adult life working to spread Rachel’s message of kindness and compassion.
“I watched what no compassion looks like,” said Craig, recalling the moment when two students walked into the library where he was hiding at Columbine and began firing. “Without compassion is a terrible place to be.”
“I thank [Craig] for taking the time to be here and impart his knowledge and his experience on us,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian, prior to the event.
“It’s not going to stop with this presentation,” said Avedisian, explaining that with the help of Patty St. Amant and her team, a leadership camp incorporating Rachel’s Challenge would begin this summer, open to all high schools and junior high schools in the district. “This community will once again be a shining example of what Rhode Island can be.”
St. Amant sees the long journey ahead but hopes the community will get involved by attending a third presentation by Craig, occurring tonight at Toll Gate.
“Every parent in Warwick, every resident in Warwick, it is our duty to set the example and raise the bar for these kids,” said St. Amant, director of family support services in Warwick. She feels Rachel’s Challenge is an important message for the community to ensure kids feel safe, appreciated and important.
“We’ve been inundated with sadness over the past 10 years. Sitting through a presentation like that shows how important it is to flip your attitude,” said St. Amant.
She believes the new leadership camps, which will run three weeks in July, will help change the culture of Warwick schools. “I want Rachel’s Challenge clubs to be in each high school and I want each high school to go to their junior high school and spread the message,” she said.
In addition to sharing his sister’s story, Craig presented the students with five challenges to change the culture of their school and community. The challenges included finding the positive influences in life and looking for the best in others, like Rachel did.
“She had the courage to stick up for someone who couldn’t stand up for himself,” said Craig, recalling a fellow student who told the Scott family that Rachel saved his life by being his friend.
While the presentation included images of Rachel and video of Columbine, Craig made sure to include moments of humor to make students laugh and smile, including funny Internet videos and a demonstration of his dancing skills.
“They made the connections; they got it,” said Assistant Principal Candace Caluori, who has helped bring Rachel’s Challenge to Toll Gate previously. “I am exceptionally proud of my kids.”
Caluori understands the importance of Rachel’s message for her students, saying, “I think, overall, we need to change school culture. We are bombarded by negative media. They’ve seen it all their lives; it’s all they’ve known. But there is another way.”
Following a standing ovation, many students lined up to meet Craig and thank him for sharing Rachel’s message.
“I just think he’s amazing, the fact that he can come and talk about such a tragic event,” said junior Gianna Cormier. “He is a great person and so is Rachel.”
“I saw the first presentation last year and was really inspired by it,” said senior Allison Connery, who is a member of Toll Gate’s Friends of Rachel Club. “It’s true; Rachel has touched millions of hearts.”
School Committee member Gene Nadeau was one of the individuals touched by yesterday’s presentation.
“I hope it has a positive effect on the students,” said Nadeau. “I don’t see how it can’t have the impact [Craig] is looking for and we’re all looking for.”
To experience Rachel’s Challenge firsthand, attend the community presentation tonight in the Robert Shapiro Cultural Arts Center at Toll Gate High School at 7.